Two years ago, I set up Mothership Writers, running creative writing courses especially for new mums. I’ve now carried out more than a hundred workshops and time and time again I’ve seen just how nourishing and restorative – if not transformational – the act of putting pen to paper can be. I founded Mothership on the principles of creativity, community, and wellbeing, and as we headed into the second lockdown, I wanted to do something to acknowledge the extra tough time that new mums were having as a result of the pandemic. New motherhood is challenging at the best of times, and suffice to say, it’s been far from the best of times … all the uncertainty around hospital regulations, limited access to the usual support networks, not to mention that fear of getting sick yourself, when a tiny baby is so completely dependent on you. Never has new motherhood been tougher. And never has the need for self-expression – and community – been more vital.
So, back in November I launched Born in Lockdown, a collaborative writing project for those who’d given birth in that same year. The idea was to encourage new mums to get into the rhythm of daily writing, just jotting down a few lines at a time, small vignettes that captured some aspect – any aspect, really – of their experience. I reassured those taking part that no single person’s contribution would be able to say it all but, when woven all together as one finished piece, it might get close: a picture of new motherhood in 2020.
An incredible 277 new mums took part from all across the UK (and a few from abroad), from all walks of life, many with no writing experience at all – and the result is extraordinary. It was my job to put the final piece together into an eBook, with a creative approach inspired by a novel I love, Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation. I arranged the fragments into a flowing narrative, where we begin in pregnancy, we move through labour – different types of labour – and then into the beyond: life with a newborn in lockdown – how that feels and what it looks like.
Born in Lockdown brings to light so many important issues: the extra pressures on mental health; feelings of isolation and uncertainty; missing family and the support of friends; bereavement and serious illness. But there’s also a strong sense of the silver linings, of gratitude, and finding extraordinary gifts in the everyday. And the kindness of NHS staff really shines through. It’s a powerful, raw and unflinchingly honest account of new motherhood in these unreal times – and I think, ultimately, it’s a truly uplifting read; testament to the human capacity for resilience and hope – and the amazing strength of mothers.
The response to the book has been fantastic. In the month since launch, it’s been downloaded nearly 5,000 times, and raised over £6,000 for the charity SANDS. One of my favourite lines in Born in Lockdown is ‘The very thing keeping you apart right now will one day bond you together.’ Our book was made in exactly that spirit. It’s about bringing together mums to be creative, and to be given a voice. I hope that when a new mum reads Born in Lockdown they might feel less alone, and for the rest of us, it offers the chance to walk in someone else’s shoes – to push a buggy, do laps of the park, look up to the sky in search of a slice of blue sky. 277 pairs of shoes, in fact.
Find out more: www.mothershipwriters.com/borninlockdown
To donate to SANDS please access this link: Sands: Born in Lockdown (enthuse.com)